There’s a reason why “heartbreak” is synonymous with “breakup.” Breakups are painful. It can feel like the pain resides in our heads, our hearts and in our bones. Sometimes it’s a faint ache, like a sore muscle. Other times, it’s a full-on throbbing, a raw wound.
Post-breakup, people often “feel sad, lost, empty, alone, and angry,” said Meredith Hansen, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert. They might withdraw from friends and family and have a hard time doing their work, and their self-esteem might suffer, she said. According to Hansen, they might also show other signs of depression, such as loss of interest in activities, loss of appetite, development of sleeping problems or feelings of hopelessness.
People suffering from heartbreak might turn to self-destructive behaviors with grave effects. “Substance abuse, multiple sexual partners, and avoidance of vulnerable emotions can lead to serious health issues, long-term health problems, and potential mental health issues,” Hansen said.
Time helps to heal heartbreak, but there are many things you can do now to feel better, she said. Below, Hansen shared six suggestions for healing healthfully.
1. Seek support from loved ones.
“Reach out to people in your life who love you, care about you, and want the best for you,” Hansen said. “Talk to them about your feelings and how the loss has affected you.”
2. Seek support from a therapist.
Right after your breakup, you might feel more comfortable talking to your loved ones, Hansen said. However, after a while, you might avoid reaching out because you worry your loved ones expect you to stop grieving. That’s when talking to a therapist can help. “Having an outlet to express the pain, discomfort, fears, and sadness, such as a therapist’s office, can reduce the sense of guilt and shame a person may feel for not ‘getting over it yet.’”
Also seek help if it’s been a month or two and you still don’t feel better — or you feel worse and have more intense depressive ruminations, Hansen said. “A therapist will be able to assist with the depression, helping you feel better and regain your self-esteem and hope for the future.”
3. Be realistic about bouncing back.
Expecting yourself to bounce back after heartbreak is unrealistic. (And this expectation, when inevitably unmet, can just make you feel worse.) “You have lost an important person in your life and it is to be expected that you will not feel like your normal self or be able to accomplish normal chores, activities [and] duties,” Hansen said.
4. Appreciate your steps — however small.
Acknowledge the steps you have taken to heal, Hansen said. This could include anything from going to work to opening the blinds to having lunch with a friend to brushing your teeth, she said. “You have to remember to honor where you are and acknowledge yourself for what you are doing.”
5. Get active.
When you’re feeling depressed, it’s especially important to move and trigger those feel-good endorphins. But this doesn’t have to be a long run or a tough workout. “Even if you can only walk down to the corner store, around the block, or just to the mailbox, that is still something,” Hansen said. Do what you can, and try to incorporate more activity every day or week, she said.
6. Avoid unhealthy behaviors.
Avoid diving into a new relationship or engaging in casual sex, Hansen said. “Casual sexual relationships immediately after a breakup can cause a person to become overly attached to someone that they wouldn’t otherwise be interested in.”
Also, avoid withdrawing from others, clinging to your ex or the hope that you’ll get back together and continually beating yourself up, she said.
Instead, give yourself time to heal, savor your alone time and reconnect with both yourself and your loved ones, she said. (Here are some ideas for savoring solitude.)
“Only you will know when you are ready to move on, but remember that it will get better, you will heal, you will meet someone new, and you will enjoy life and love again,” Hansen said.
Twine heart photo available from Shutterstock